Brooklyn Boro

Miracle Mitchell-Lama housing developments seek preservation plan

New bill would curb abuses found on pro-private boards

June 9, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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A Mitchell-Lama Reform Bill sponsored by State Sen. Brian Kavanaugh (D-Brooklyn Heights-DUMBO-Williamsburg-Greenpoint-Lower Manhattan) and Manhattan Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal has passed both Houses and now heads for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, the two sponsors announced Tuesday.

The bill, A.7272/S.6412, would increase transparency in Mitchell-Lama co-op boards, require more frequent board meetings, eliminate voting by proxy and raise the threshold needed for a co-op to leave the program.

The Mitchell-Lama Program, which began in 1955, was formed to build subsidized middle-income housing, both rental and co-op, as a way of keeping middle-income residents in the city. A total of 269 Mitchell-Lama developments were built during the program’s heyday in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

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A list of Mitchell-Lama co-ops provided by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development lists quite a few in Brooklyn. Among the most well-known are Atlantic Terminal I and II in Fort Greene; Cadman Plaza North and Cadman Towers, both in Brooklyn Heights; Kings Bay I and II in Brighton Beach; Luna Park in Coney Island; Northside Gardens in Williamsburg; and Pratt Towers and Ryerson Towers, both in Clinton Hill. 

“This bill is intended to ensure open, transparent governance of Mitchell-Lama cooperatives  to protect the rights of shareholder residents and the public interest in preserving affordable housing in Mitchell-Lama buildings that have been subsidized for decades,” said Kavanagh. 

Mitchell-Lama cooperatives are run by a board of directors, the representatives of which are elected by the shareholders of the building. State law does not currently require the board to meet a certain minimum number of times a year. 

To enhance transparency, the legislation will require the board hold at least six public meetings each year. To ensure that voting is fair and representative, the legislation will eliminate voting by proxy, a system which the bill’s sponsors say is ripe for abuse, and instead implement an absentee ballot system, which they say “will ensure that factions on the board are not empowered to harvest proxy votes to sway decisions in their favor.”

The legislation would also raise the threshold needed to voluntarily dissolve, or leave Mitchell-Lama, to 80 percent of all dwelling units. It would ensure that back-to-back dissolution votes cannot be held, by imposing a five-year moratorium following a failed dissolution vote. 

Finally, the legislation will pause any and all formal steps toward privatization until the last of the executive orders related to the COVID-19 state of emergency expires or is rescinded. 

“On behalf of the Brooklyn Mitchell-Lama Task Force. we would like to thank all of our supporters and sponsors for working with the coalition to get this legislation passed thus far. The provisions in A.7272/S.6412 will help us address some of the issues that we have been trying to get addressed for many, many years such as the misuse of proxies, corruption, lack of transparency and non-supervision of boards,” said Dealice Fuller, co-chair of the Brooklyn Mitchell-Lama Task Force.

“[This bill] helps to correct many of the outrageous problems we have seen when a pro-privatization board of directors moves to take a development out of the program, and it makes the process harder by raising the vote percentage to be more in sync with other similar votes in publicly supported housing,” said Christine Fowley, founding member of the Committee to Preserve Cadman Towers.

Sharon Torres, another Cadman Towers resident, said, “It’s been 10 years since moving to Cadman Towers, I’ve used the time to become an active member of the Brooklyn Mitchell-Lama Task Force, Cooperators United for Mitchell-Lama and a member of the Mitchell-Lama Residents Coalition, and have attended hundreds of meetings of hard-working, dedicated Mitchell-Lama residents. I am grateful to Assemblymember Rosenthal and State Senator Kavanagh and their dedicated staff for all their hard work and support.”

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  1. Dianne

    Can someone who supports this bill respond to how ML housing is expected to pay for major capital improvements for aging buildings and if it is through maintenance increases, how then does the support affordable housing?

    • Monica Sturge

      I totally agree with you. Please read my comments. Makes no damn sense that people who have lived in ML for the past 50 years are not allowed to create some generational wealth. The leadership of the task force, who initiated this bill, is doing the same thing they accuse boardmembers of doing. They have had no proper elections according to the Brooklyn ML Task Force Bylaws in years.

      • Michele0515

        The method for building ‘generational wealth’ is to save while you are benefitting from ‘affordable housing’ then move on to more appropriate housing once you’ve secured such ‘wealth’ and leave room for others to benefit from affordable housing. The idea was never to allow people to benefit from a leg up then hog it up while also benefitting from vacation homes as many in ML have been able to do. If one can afford a vacation home, and other luxuries, it is because they are benefitting from ‘affordable’ housing; however, if they have the extra funds for such extravagance, they don’t belong in ‘affordable’ housing. That is called ‘entitlement’

  2. Hello, I can address the last persons question, I can address the last persons question. My co-op has just done that. It was through a combination of city loans, grants and a loan from HDC. Sadly there are not enough of these funds available for all the ML’s that need them. In addition, it took us about five years to secure the funding. It is not an easy challenge to do and took a tremendous amount of work. We will still need to increase the maintenance to pay a portion loans. However much that will be forgiven if we stay in the ML program.

    • Monica Sturge

      You can continue to live in ignorance. HDC loans run for 30 years and the coop will pay interest only. At the end of ‘30’ years your coop will still owe a balloon for the full amount unless it’s forgiven at that time. Why do you think the Terms if Agreement in any contract can be changed midstream, because of a few opportunistic shareholders with ulterior motives. They still want their children to acquire MLs at the same equity we did 40 years ago. Now that the leadership of UHAB, the parent of CU4ML decided to be on the other side of the fence, in the HDC business, it’s not beneficial to leave the program. How selfish!

  3. Monica Sturge

    This bill is outrageous because when ML was formed it was with the assurance that owners would be eligible to exit the program after 20 years under certain conditions. For state legislators to force developments to change their certificate of incorporation is unconscionable, and maybe even illegal. It’s the only form of cooperative that does not allow stockholders to build generational wealth. After living in an Article IV for the past 50 years and paying a mortgage for that period, renovating my apartment and paying off any MCIs, our State Legislators are absurd for signing off on this piece of legislation because of the whim of a few.
    When I asked Marty Markowitz to form the Brooklyn ML Task Force, it was not to diminish the rights of stockholders, but rather to enhance their rights. I am totally dismayed that our elected officials did not reach out to the ML community before making such a decision.